Google Panda 4.0 Algorithm Update – What you need to know

In the very early hours this morning, Matt Cutts confirmed that Google have started rolling out their latest algorithm update – Panda 4.0. Matt Cutts Panda 4.0 Tweet Although Google are constantly updating the algorithm with data refreshes, this update has officially been given the name ‘Panda 4.0’ by Matt which usually means that some sites experience more significant changes in ranking positions. The Panda updates are engineered to reward websites with higher quality content and prevent sites with low quality content and a high number of adverts from ranking well which is all a part of Google’s aim to provide a better user experience. Tony Dimmock, who we recently saw speaking at BrightonSEO, put it well in his tweet: Tony Dimmock Tweet

Will it have a big impact?

According to Search Engine Land, “the impact (in English) is ~7.5% of queries that are affected to a degree that a regular user might notice.” Looking at MozCast, there was a lot of movement in rankings on the 19th of May: MozCast But it’s worth noting that these big changes in rankings could be a result of the Pay Day Loan algorithm update, which Google confirmed it rolled out over the weekend. The Pay Day Loan update is more concerned with ‘very spammy’ search queries like ‘pay day loans’ which are very competitive areas.

How to check if you’ve been hit by Panda 4.0

Unlike manual penalties, Google don’t notify you through Webmaster Tools that you’ve been affected by the Panda update, so you have to work it out yourself whether you’ve been hit. To quickly check whether your site has potentially lost rankings as a result of the Panda update, follow these steps:
  • Check your keyword ranking positions Assuming that you are keeping a record of where your site is ranking for key terms, you can search for your keywords in Google to see where your site is ranking now. It is worth checking them now, but also in a few days time after the update has settled in, as Matt Cutts did say they are ‘rolling out’ the update which ‘starts today’ so this might roll over a few days. If you see big changes all of a sudden in your ranking positions, you may well have been affected by the Panda 4.0 update – possibly in a positive or negative way.
  • Check your organic traffic levels in Analytics If you have analytics installed on your site, keep an eye on the organic search traffic levels over the next few days, as it could potentially rise or fall as a result of your site being affected by the update. Sudden spikes could show that you have suffered or gained from the impact, but remember to consider any other activities that you might have going on, such as a new TV advert which could also be responsible for big spikes in traffic.
  • Compare your organic traffic with algorithm updates My favourite tool for analysing the history of a website and whether it has been affected by any algorithm update is the Panguin Tool. The tool simply plots the dates of the algorithm updates on a graph showing your website’s organic traffic data – pulled through from Google Analytics. You might have to wait a few days to see whether this particular update has clearly had an impact on your site, but if you look now and see that your site has had spikes in traffic around the times of previous Panda updates, you may well be impacted again this time around.

What to do if you’ve been hit by a Panda Update

As Panda updates aim to demote sites with low-quality content and more advertising, the best thing to do is carry out an onsite audit. If you’re not experienced in SEO to carry one out, use a professional who does know what they’re doing. The key issues to look for when reviewing a site are:
  • Duplicate content
  • Thin content
  • Top-heavy advertising – a lot of adverts above the fold
  • Too many adverts in comparison to content
  • Duplicate or missing page titles and meta descriptions
  • Slow page loading times
  • Poor user experience – messy design, bad layout, unclear navigation, broken links

As well as onsite factors, it’s also key to remember that your site could be impacted by offsite factors. For example, if you have backlinks from sites which have been hit by the Panda update due to low quality content, duplicate content or too many adverts – the chances are that those links will carry less value.

Panda recovery case studies and guides?

If you have any examples of how you’ve managed to recover a website after a Panda update or have written an awesome guide to Panda updates or how to recover from them, we’d love to see your links below in our comments.